Island of Lost Forevers

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Damian lay on his back, staring at the plaster ceiling. The bold green numbers on the alarm clock indicated the passage of several hours. He felt as though he’d slept ten minutes. The strange surroundings didn’t bother him. Since joining his wards with Catilen’s, he felt warm, content and safe. Besides, he was used to sleeping in stranger places.

Excitement pried his eyes open long before the alarm was set to ring, his head filled with thoughts of the island and what it might hold. He didn’t know why Catilen agreed to accompany him. Probably just to humor me. Catilen Taylor was the only professor at the University of San Francisco who hadn’t laughed in his face the first time he mentioned energy constructs and sorcery. If he could find a hint of solid evidence to bring home with him, he might escape the label of Catilen’s hooky friend.

It wasn’t hard to find open-minded people in San Francisco. Not crazy people who believed any old conspiracy theory; people who believed in humans’ abilities to manipulate energy fields and auras. No one treated it as much like a science as he did, but he wasn’t without company or interesting conversations. When he met Catilen, he thought she’d be one of that crowd. She turned out to be so much more.

It had something to do with her religion. He hadn’t paid much attention to it at first. Wicca, as people called it these days, had been all the rage among teenagers when they were young. Plenty of black-bedecked goth girls called themselves witches and talked about secret rituals they held in forests and abandoned warehouses. Most of them had no idea what they were talking about.

Catilen wasn’t one of them either. She’d obviously studied the history of her beliefs. She knew why she did the things she did; she’d explained a number of rituals to him over the years when he expressed curiosity. He spent a lot of time contemplating the similarities between her practices and his own. Her knowledge impressed him and her rituals were practical, tailored to her needs. Catilen took care to distinguish between needs and desires. She never wasted energy.

Damian hadn’t realized her practices were anything more than spiritual until last night. Based on the way she talked about spiritual energy and its use in magick – with a k, he reminded himself, distinct and different from the kind of magic he performed – I suspected our techniques were similar. I never expected she could make things happen. He marveled at her skill in drawing a shield out of the ground, a glimmering, translucent gold bubble to his second-sight.

He shouldn’t be surprised. He knew Catilen used protective shields similar to his own. He’d tested them before, unable to resist the temptation when she proved so knowledgeable on the subject. Whatever she did, it rebuffed an earnest probe. Now he knew why. Her practices may be different, but their results were the same.

Damian had met precious few people capable of sorcery. They became his teachers, though each plea for apprenticeship met with resistance. Proving himself grew more difficult with each new level he strove to achieve. But the time and effort were worthwhile; he understood things most people dismissed. He could make significant progress in several scientific fields, if he could get people to take him seriously.

Lying in Catilen’s guest bed, watching the glowing clock numbers climb toward the appointed hour, Damian wondered if other modern witches were as capable as Catilen. Could all the non-pretenders make things happen? Or was Catilen special? Did her teachers practice the same ancient arts he did? Had they disguised their knowledge as witchcraft? Perhaps a sorcerer founded the religion for that purpose.

Does it matter? The revelation of Catilen’s magical prowess made her the perfect companion. Last night’s kiss was her first indication of interest. Or was it? Catilen had clearly defined their relationship as friends. He didn’t want to risk losing that by misinterpreting a kind gesture. A kiss isn’t an invitation.

Damian sighed. Despite its requirement in his arcane studies, he struggled with patience.

Shaking off the last of his weariness, Damian fumbled to disable the alarm before it chirruped its morning greeting. By the time he dressed and re-packed his bag, the agreed upon time had passed. Catilen should at least be awake. Even so, he lingered in the guest room, contemplating the paintings hung on the wall.

Catilen’s house matched her personality. The walls bore earthen tones, wood carvings and faerie paintings. The atmosphere was open, airy and inviting. He wondered how often she entertained guests; she had the perfect space for it.

Damian inched the door open and peered through the crack before he ventured into the hallway. He didn’t want to wander the house; it felt like intruding.

Catilen stood outside the door, her back to him. As he watched, she dropped something into a thick manila envelope and sealed it.

Guilt washed over him; he’d eavesdropped on something private. As if it caught her attention, Catilen turned. Heart in his throat, Damian opened the door and forced himself to smile.

“Good morning.” Catilen greeted him with a genuine smile. “Did you sleep well?”

“Not really,” he admitted, his tone sheepish. “Too excited. Kept dreaming of the mystical isle. Yourself?”

“About the same.” Catilen tucked the envelope into the top drawer of an old wooden dresser that occupied one side of the hallway. “Let’s eat a quick breakfast and be off, shall we?”

Damian nodded and followed her to the kitchen, wondering all the while what she put in the envelope.

Catilen offered him eggs and toast if he wanted, but Damian chose a lighter breakfast when he saw his colleague pulling fruit and yogurt from the fridge. Though his stomach rumbled, he knew heavy meals didn’t mix well with long journeys.

When they finished breakfast, Catilen poured coffee into two thermoses and handed one to him. He took a moment to savor the first sip before he fetched his bag from the guest room. He helped Catilen tuck her suitcase into the back of his car, cramming the camping equipment deeper into the trunk to make space.

His hands shook when he got behind the wheel, nerves prickling with adrenaline. It was all he could do to keep the car parked while Catilen buckled her seatbelt.

The speedometer warned him he spent most of the drive over the speed limit. It was early enough the roads were still empty, or his driving might have crossed the line from reckless to dangerous. His companion pointed out every stop sign he missed, her lips pale and pressed in a thin line.

He lightened his touch on the gas pedal every time Catilen made one of her clenched-teeth comments, but the reform never lasted long. He wanted to be in their hired boat. He wanted to be across the ocean. He wanted the answer to this spell-binding mystery.

Catilen looked haggard when she exited the car. While he unpacked the trunk, she took a moment to re-bind her hair.

The tents and camping supplies fit into two large backpacks, though their bulk made them unwieldy. Luckily, their personal packs were small and light. He didn’t anticipate trouble finding a decent campground.

When Catilen’s knees stopped shaking, she shouldered her half of the gear. Damian led the way to the dock.

The battered boat he’d hired to take them to the island brought a dubious look to his colleague’s face. The craft looked as though it had seen better days, but it belonged to the only captain willing to brave the military patrols blocking their path. For the right price, he’d even pledged to bring them home.

“Our options were limited.” He offered Catilen an apologetic look. “But Captain Jones has been to the island before. He was one of the original witnesses.”

Catilen eyed the boat nervously for several seconds before she nodded. “I remember. He was the only one to let them use his name in the paper.”

Aboard the shady vessel, the captain straightened ropes and adjusted instruments to make ready for the journey. Every time he almost turned to look at them, something else caught his attention. He waved a bird away. He remembered something he set aside. He checked his maps, untied a knot and stowed his toolbox.

Damian smiled and winked at Catilen when she arched an eyebrow in his direction. He’d warned her about this the night before. The man would fuss over preparations all morning if they let him.

“Excuse me,” Damian called, “Captain Jones?”

Startled, the captain turned to face them. “‘Bout time! C’mon aboard. We gotta get goin’.” He pointed to a board propped between the boat and the dock.

Catilen eyed the ramp with as much unease as the boat. Before her resolve could waver, Damian offered to take her pack. When she reached the boat, he handed all four packs across, followed by the coffee thermoses. Then he joined her in the shaky craft.

With the captain’s help, they stowed their gear. The grey-haired seafarer settled behind the controls and brought the boat’s engine to life. It sputtered and rattled, as though it might give out at any moment. Captain Jones motioned for Damian to toss the dock ties aside. With the craft unfettered, the captain turned the wheel and put them out to sea.

The boat bobbed on the tide as it cut across the waves. Cool morning wind ruffled Damian’s hair. He sighed, content to be underway. He sat on a bench near the side-rail, smiling as he turned his eyes skyward.

The breeze brought storm clouds with it. Heavy grey bands hovered on the horizon as the first light of day stained the sky. As the boat bucked and dropped beneath him, the first stray burst of rain moistened his arms.

Damian didn’t intend to let the weather dampen his enthusiasm, but it only took a few minutes to discover he was prone to seasickness.

* * * * * *

Damian spent the two hours of transit bent over the side of the boat. Breakfast, he decided, tasted better the first time.

Storm winds kicked up increasingly energetic waves. Though they kept his stomach churning, they didn’t seem to bother Catilen. She stayed by his side, rubbing his back and holding his hand, offering what comfort she could. Only his overwhelming desire to visit the mysterious island allowed him to endure the endless tossing.

He knew they were getting close when the boat slowed. He thought the decrease in momentum would diminish his nausea, but lifting his head summoned another round of sickness. It’s a good thing Cat came on this excursion as a friend. This is hardly first date material. But either his stomach was empty, or the decrease in speed helped, because Damian’s equilibrium returned.

Just in time for the captain to hiss a curse as he poked his head out of the driver’s compartment. “Patrol ship,” he warned, pointing to a growing steel-grey bulk on the horizon. It loomed out of the ocean like a whale. I wonder if this is how krill feel when they’re about to be devoured. Except krill probably don’t feel much and blue whales have neither machine guns nor teeth.

“How do you feel?” Catilen asked, leaning close to keep her voice low.

“I’ll be fine,” Damian murmured, mustering a weary smile. At least our boat ride is almost over.

“Good.” Catilen grinned, blue eyes sparkling like polished sapphires. “You can help keep watch.”

He didn’t know what she expected him to find; the captain already spotted the danger. But he nodded and scanned the sea for other signs of movement. At least the rain had stopped. The sun peeked through breaks in thinning clouds. Morning light glittered off the storm tossed waves. The resulting dazzle made it difficult to distinguish anything. Squinting and blinking against the sun’s glare didn’t help. He dismissed every motion as a trick of the light to sore eyes.

“Is there anything we can do?” Catilen asked anxiously.

The grey-haired sea captain tugged on his scraggly beard, then shook his head. He’d already cut the engine. “No place ta hide on open seas, Miss.”

“Hey, have a little faith,” Damian exclaimed, extending a hand to his traveling companion. “Remember what happened this morning?” She laid her hand in his and he squeezed it gently.

If they stayed quiet, if they drew no attention to themselves, the patrol ship would pass them by. Belief gave magic power; those who wove sorcery without conviction condemned themselves to failure. Positive affirmation from the caster sufficed but, since he’d included Catilen’s energy in the spell, her attitude could bolster the magic. She still looked worried, but he hoped his words planted the seed of confidence.

Despite faith in his abilities, Damian held his breath as the patrol ship neared. It towered above them like a New York City skyscraper. It looked deceptively close, as if he could lay hands on the smooth steel surface.

Minutes slowed to small eternities. He’d read that time seemed to slow in moments of dire need so the mind had a better chance to react. Not that he had options. They were too far from shore to swim, there might be dangers lurking in the water, and the soldiers would find them anyway.

Catilen’s hand tightened around his. He took a deep breath and tried to project a sense of calm. If they were arrested, a clear, rational head would serve them best. We could claim we didn’t know this area was off limits. Captain Jones might be enough of an old coot to convince them.

“This is the acid test,” he whispered, barely daring to breathe the words, though they couldn’t compete with the military carrier’s engines.

The patrol vessel pulled alongside theirs. Damian’s heart lodged in his throat. Then the ship drifted past. Another silent eternity and it turned in the distance to continue its search elsewhere. Their boat rocked on the disturbance cut by the larger craft’s wake.

The rugged sea captain’s eyes followed the patrol ship until it disappeared in the distance, tugging his beard all the while.

Catilen’s lips fell open, accompanied by a joyful squeal. It worked she mouthed, sharing with him a conspiratorial grin. “We must be getting close if we’re running into patrols!”

“Hell, at this point, I’d swim the rest of the way,” Damian declared.

Captain Jones crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Now we just need ta find a good harbor that ain’t crawlin’ with gubment.”

Damian muttered a curse. I didn’t think of that. They couldn’t pull up to any old rock and hop onto shore. They needed a shallow cove or a sandy beach. We can’t spend a lot of time looking either. If we’re still here when that patrol ship returns, our luck is unlikely to hold.

Catilen’s fingers closed tighter around his hand. It gave him an idea. “Cat,” he whispered, “mind lending me some of your strength?” He knew he didn’t need to explain.

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sure? You shouldn’t work energy if you’re sick.”

“I feel better,” he insisted, though the steady bob of their boat reminded him of his stomach’s precarious position. What choice do we have? Catilen might be able to manipulate energy, but she can’t do what I do. It would be a shame to come this far and fail, especially after avoiding arrest.

Catilen hesitated, her gaze searching. Finally, she nodded. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. Damian felt her half of the thin barrier between them slip away, a tentative tendril of power snaking in his direction. He lowered his half of the shield and grasped the seeking energy. Their connection snapped into place as if they’d been working together for years.

Damian kept his eyes open when he worked. One of his teachers warned him about lowering his physical defenses and trusting his secondary senses to keep him out of danger. This way, if Catilen signaled trouble, he could reacted quickly and without disorientation. Seconds were precious in emergencies. He learned long ago how to tune out the physical world, letting it fade into the background while he reached for his arcane abilities.

He needed power. He could draw directly from himself, but he preferred not to. It exhausted him. The ocean made things doubly difficult; the energy he worked came from the earth, and the ground was far below them here. Water diluted his secondary senses and the ever-shifting waves threatened his concentration. They were close enough to the island, he could use its energy without much extra effort. The energy Catilen funneled to him provided the boost he needed.

Having never encountered another world, Damian couldn’t define the island’s energy as other-worldly. It had a foreign aura, different from any energy he’d ever worked before. It responded instantly to his touch, yet proved difficult to siphon.

It took several minutes to wrangle the wayward energy into submission. When he did, a wind kicked up in the east, shifting their tiny boat off course.

Captain Jones reached for the rudder, but Damian lifted a hand to stop him. It took a moment to settle back into the working after dividing his attention. The wind returned, pushing them further west.

“Let’s follow the wind,” he suggested, choosing his words carefully. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and this old man seemed particularly prone to supernatural beliefs. The grey-beard eyed him for a moment before returning to the driver’s compartment.

While Captain Jones got the boat moving again, Damian dropped his hold over the foreign energy. He reconstructed his half of the barrier and felt Catilen raise hers as well. He pretended not to notice she hadn’t reclaimed her hand.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Captain Jones’s exclamation startled him.

Momentarily blinded by sunlight reflecting off the waves, Damian couldn’t tell what excited him. Then the dazzle cleared from his gaze and he caught his first glimpse of their mystery island.

A small band of yellow sand hugged the ocean. It gave way after several feet to a thick jungle, crowded with undergrowth reaching for sunlight.

Looks tropical. Can it shift to other positions on Earth? Does it carry its weather with it? He scanned the shore, drinking in the details. When he spotted the sheltered cove that excited their captain, butterflies took flight in his stomach.

The perfect landing place! They never would have found it if the wind hadn’t blown them off course. Another successful working.

The captain steered toward the cove’s shallow water. “C’mon lovebirds,” he called. “I gotta get outta here ‘afore that patrol comes back.”

Catilen flushed. Grinning, Damian released her hand and bent to retrieve their gear.

* * * * * *

When Captain Jones disappeared with his small boat around the curvature of the island, it was easy to believe they were the last two people on Earth. Damian shouldered his packs and flashed Catilen a grin. “Well Eve,” he teased, “shall we discover what this Eden has in store for us?”

Chuckling, Catilen shifted the weight of her pack. When none of the gear dug into her back, she followed.

The island certainly looked untouched. Tall trees swayed in a light breeze, the last remnant of the morning’s storm. Thick vegetation slowed their progress since neither wanted to hack a path through the underbrush. Gnarled tree roots protruded from the ground at irregular intervals, threatening to trip the travelers if they lacked vigilance. Most of the plant life looked familiar, but some plants concealed unfamiliar thorns and brambles.

It took awhile to reacclimate to solid ground after a few hours swaying on ocean tides. The ground bucked beneath her feet, making the trek more difficult. Catilen braced herself against nearby tree trunks to keep her balance and slid her feet through tall grass to check for roots, stumps and other hidden obstacles.

Though shadows ruled beneath the canopy, the forest awakened around them as they traveled deeper. Birdcalls sounded over the incessant buzz of various insects. Dragonflies glided by at eye level. Crickets chirruped aimlessly. They did their best not to disturb the local creatures with the flashlights they needed to find their path. The smell of moss and damp earth filled their nostrils.

There was nothing alien about the landscape but it was still breathtaking. Like something straight out of National Geographic. Catilen craned her neck to trace the origin of the vines hanging over her head. They disappeared into the thick twining of tree branches far above.

They searched for fresh water first, needing a place to refill their canteens when they ran dry. They drank liberally, unused to the heavy humidity that accompanied the heat. Sweat matted Catilen’s hair to her head by the time they stumbled on a stream weaving through the vegetation. They stopped to rest a few minutes and Damian gathered plant samples. When she had her breath back, Catilen assisted him. She cut leaves or petals from unfamiliar specimens, tucking them gently in plastic bags for later examination. They were careful not to kill any of the plants they wanted to study. If any of them are alien or extinct, Damian’s going to make some botanist very happy when we get home.

They followed the river’s shore, looking for a suitable campsite. A break in the canopy above the river allowed them to track the sun’s progress across the sky. They called a halt at noon, relieving themselves of the weight of their packs. Catilen took out a pair of Tupperware containers filled with fruit and vegetables she packed for lunch, holding one out for Damian to take.

He accepted the container and perched on a large rock to eat. “I spotted a sandy cove a little ways from here. If the river’s shallow there, it might be the perfect place to set up camp.”

“Then we can begin in earnest.” Catilen bit into an apple slice, savoring the tangy juice. They needed a safe place if they wanted to explore the island’s mystical forces.

“I’m fairly sure there’s no one on the island,” her companion mused as he munched on a celery stick. “I think we’d have seen signs of people by now.”

Catilen swiped an arm across her forehead to keep sweat from dripping in her eyes. “Maybe it’s better that way.” She had hoped to find people here. Her mind conjured fantastic alien civilizations with a plethora of history and literature to peruse. She was as excited to discover a lost culture as Damian was to discover new forms of magic. But now she saw the pristine jungle, she didn’t want civilization spoiling it. “Imagine what people would do to this place.”

“I know what you mean. I’ll admit, I’ve had a strange sense of foreboding ever since we stepped off the boat. Almost as if it’s wrong for us to be here.”

“I assure you,” a deep, silky voice drifted across the river, “nothing could be further from the truth.”

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